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Webster, the Soapbox orator

old man emu

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We have lost something wonderful in this age of digital and electronic communication - the art of oratory. When was the last time you gathered with others in front of a person standing tall on a box or speaker's ladder an making a speech? That person now would never be a politician. Perhaps the closest we have now is the stand-up comedian. Oratory is an art; an art we have had since the days of ancient Greece, but an art that that is being destroyed by the publicity men with their slogans and jingles. This destruction is aided and abetted by the news media for whom a sound bite and a chorus line of nodding heads is their version of the art. 


When I was growing up in the late 1960s, I often made my way on a Sunday afternoon to Sydney's Domain where all sorts of weird and wonderful people stood above the crowd delivering speeches about their own particular bee in their bonnet. My favourite speaker was a man known best as Webster. 


Webster, by his own confession, navigated the whole gamut of ideological spectra from the centre to the far left, then over to the extreme right and back to the middle again. He had come to see adherence to doctrinaire creeds as dangerous, and planned to set up an "ecological workshop on religion", where anyone willing could come to have their religion "tested".


Webster was wont to claim that his purpose in orating was to inspire people to think for themselves. His method was one of deliberate provocation, conscious deployment of irony, "verbal cartooning" and a razor edged wit attested to by all commentators of the time. "I have never yet heard Webster bettered by a heckler, nor stuck for some kind of answer to a question." "It could be argued that the greatest demagogue in Australia today is a 53-year-old Cockney named Muhammed (sic) John Webster" wrote Sydney Morning Herald journalist Gavin Souter in 1966, "There is no one in the Australian Parliaments to match him, and in Sydney's Domain he has no real competition." "Webster insults, abuses and ridicules his audience. The response, in laughter and applause, would be the envy of any television comic" observed Jim Oram.


This video is a pretty good portrait of Webster, his style and his beliefs.



Webster finally took his orator's ladder to a higher domain in 2008. Here is how the Domain Trust treated the memory of one of its greatest soapbox orators. The Director of the Trust, Dr Tim Entwistle was still a primary school kid when Webster was at his best, so would never have experienced a Sunday afternoon sitting on the grass of the Domain hearing Webster express his ideas and scuttle hecklers.



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It wasn,t the " electonic media " that killed oratoring.

It was what you are taught in the education system.

I have not 'talked ' as much in all my years since, learning to talk with my finger,s on a keyboard.

It doesn,t matter two hoots if no one listens.

If faced with people l can,t speak and my mind doesn,t work as it should, also this Great grammer, spellchecker, hides my educational gnorance.

Things have ( l hope  ) changed, since l had the Misfortune of the 'SYSTEM'.


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The wife reckons talkback radio was what killed orating. I remember the orators, they were great. You would like to think that there was more democracy in those days, but alas there were lots of bad things going on. Institutions, for example, were regarded quietly as houses of horrors, and some did deserve their reputation. I wonder if any of the orators knew about some of the wicked things that were happening?



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